Pandemic fallout: Veterans’ service organizations lobby county for ARPA funding | New

Local veterans service organizations are asking the Cleveland County Commission for a portion of its $ 55 million American Rescue Plan Act funds, citing the impact veterans have suffered during the COVID pandemic. 19.

The Dale K. Graham Veterans Foundation is an accredited Veterans Services Organization (VSO) that formed as a 501 © 3 organization in Norman in 2015. VSOs help veterans file claims, from mental health and medical care to monthly financial support based on service-related disabilities.

Foundation CEO Jon Foti said accredited VSOs like the foundation do not receive federal funds and will not receive any ARPA money directly. The foundation does not charge for its services and depends exclusively on donations.

The American Legion also handles veterans compensation claims in Norman and relies on membership dues and donations, said Carl Ellison, senior veterans service officer.

For weeks, Foti showed up at committee meetings to sound the alarm about the financial and human cost of the pandemic on an already struggling population. Ellison and Foti attended a recent stakeholder meeting with other nonprofits to provide input to the commission.

Stakeholder meetings are being hosted by 929 Strategies on behalf of the commission to identify the impacts of the pandemic on the community, The Transcript previously reported.

The commission must submit a preliminary plan for its ARPA spending by the August 31 deadline to the US Department of the Treasury, despite guidelines the department has yet to finalize.

“Veterans have flocked to veterans service organizations to file claims because they too have lost their jobs,” [and] need additional compensation to make ends meet, ”Foti said. “They too had mental health issues because they were isolated because of the pandemic, had health issues because many of them had contracted the virus and unfortunately hundreds of them died in because of that. So their spouses asked for help.

“Surviving spouses are very often eligible for the spousal benefit, but they have to go through this process of several months to apply. “

Ellison said the American Legion was inundated with phone calls and office visits to process requests and take advantage of other programs like food and temporary shelter.

Veterans hit hard

Veterans have been hit hard by the pandemic as they largely fell into the category at highest risk for serious illness and death – residents over the age of 50, Foti stressed.

The veterans center experienced a COVID-19 outbreak last fall that resulted in the deaths of around 30 veterans, The Transcript reported in November 2020.

The foundation closed its doors from April 2020 to September 2020; volunteers, workers and clients were at too great a risk to run the facility and handle complaints in person. The foundation has invested $ 100,000 in technology to help adapt to a new virtual reality, Foti said.

“The tragedy is that veterans’ service organizations have not been able to adapt quickly enough due to technological needs, and veterans have not been able to adapt quickly enough,” Foti said.

The technology has little benefit for homeless veterans, Foti said. Not seeing veterans also meant those who were homeless went unnoticed or were hard to find.

“When they arrive with their backpacks and their looks, we can see that they are homeless,” Foti said. “You are homeless. You do not have access to the computer or the Internet. Very often, the veterans who needed help the most were selected by the pandemic because of their circumstances. “

The American Legion has not closed its doors, Ellison said, and complaints have poured in. He has treated at least two cases of suicide during the pandemic. The toll of mental health, isolation and fear of the unknown was too heavy for some veterans. He expects a veteran suicide report to be higher for the period.

“It’s a tough thing to do when you have a wife and kids sitting across from you,” Ellison said. “The emotions become quite intense. I’m a very compassionate person, and that’s why I try to help people and do what I can do… I sat here and shed a few tears myself, but I love to do what I do.

financial worries

Both organizations are facing financial difficulties.

Foti said that although donations have remained stable, this is not expected to continue. It may take months or years for applications to be granted, but during the pandemic, the processing of applications at the federal level has become a trickle.

With many veterans choosing to donate a portion of the arrears they receive as a lump sum, upon approval, to the foundation, Foti is concerned that revenues will decline as the decline in claims becomes evident. over the next few months.

“We have served a lot less veterans throughout the pandemic,” Foti said. “So far we’ve only been able to serve 2,000 veterans, whereas in that time frame previously we would typically have served over 4,000.

“We haven’t seen that drop yet, but all veterans service organizations can expect that if you serve fewer veterans, you will raise less money. It is only a matter of time before this cycle is reversed.

Foti expects a loss of earnings of at least $ 270,000. County-wide, Foti estimated that the negative economic impact on all VSOs could be at least $ 500,000.

Ellison said if claims increased while they remained open, the Legion’s operating costs increased as well. Volunteers continued to come and process requests, sometimes coming during non-regular hours. The costs of disinfection were also high. Dues have gone down and public services have gone up.

“We spent several thousand dollars on disinfectant,” he said. “We sprayed… every day we came here and had it cleaned regularly. Heat, air and lights have increased due to the increase in usage.

Ellison said he didn’t have a dollar amount for the full impact of the pandemic without a CFO report, but the loss was obvious and ongoing.

The donations aren’t spectacular for the American Legion, and the pandemic hasn’t improved that, Ellison said. Often, volunteers made donations from their own wallets.

A veteran arrived during the October storm and needed a hotel for the night after his vehicle malfunctioned. Everyone joined in to help pay for a hotel.

“We have a small fund, but those funds go quickly,” Ellison said. “We are a senior position. In the 1950s and 1960s and even after the formation of the American Legion in 1919, people donated to it. But these donations have greatly diminished. “

Ellison said he heard of nonprofits reporting $ 30,000 in donations per month.

“If I get $ 500 I’m happy,” he said. “The only marketing we have is our Facebook page.”

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